One Sunday Toni was cleaning up after worship. As I entered the sacristy, I could tell something was bothering her. When I asked her, she told me how angry she was about something I said in my sermon.

I got concerned that I had gone too far with props during my sermon. I had stuck images of Jesus on milk bottles and had knocked them off the altar as I preached of how we need to let Jesus be Jesus instead of shaping Jesus according to our agendas.

But that did not bother her. One of my images was of Jesus as a soldier. Toni heard an undertone (rightly, I would add) about my opposition to the war we had been involved in. As a mother of someone in the military, she took offense. And though I spoke of how we are called to let our faith determine our political commitments, she spoke of how that was exactly what she was doing.

We talked and listened to one another. I was able to hear where she came from. She was able to hear where I came from. By the time we finished that conversation, our relationship had grown because we were open and honest with one another. We still did not agree, but we understood how our faith in Jesus had led us to two different places. As I drove home, I called her up and asked her what I should do if I felt led to speak similar words in a sermon. She laughed and simply said to give her a heads-up before the service started.

Toni modeled what it meant to communicate openly, directly, and respectfully. She spoke – you always knew where Toni stood on any number of issues. She listened. When I thanked her one time for her openness, she looked at me with surprise. “Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?” she said. It is, but how often we find it lacking in relationships!

When Jesus spoke about our relationships with those we struggle with, those who have wronged us, he is absolutely clear about how we should act:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-16)

The first step always is to talk to the other person first. ONLY if the person does not listen to us do we bring anyone else into the situation.

Yet, we too often think that we cannot be direct. We too often go to another person before we are ever direct.

I have seen too many marriages destroyed, too many friendships broken, too many churches ruined, because people could not talk directly, openly and respectfully.

Jesus calls us to mature behavior. Jesus calls us to real relationships where we grow from and with one another.

Jesus even takes this one step further when he says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) When he says that, Jesus is not talking about small worship crowds. Jesus is talking about relationships that are healed and restored through honesty, through faith, through a complete trust in God.

Last week, we found out that Toni suddenly died in her sleep, leaving behind a loving husband, four children, and nine grandchildren. Toni knew that a faith and trust in God through Jesus informs every part of who we are and who we are called to be. That did not mean we would agree about where that call might lead us, but it did mean that we could learn from one another and grow with one another to discover how God is speaking to us.

My life grew from Toni’s honest and real relationship with me. I pray that all who were touched by her can grow from the faith she modeled for us.

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The Rev. David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20

in Conyers. Contact him

at pastor.david@conyerselc.org.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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